Interview season is coming to a close so I feel like it is a good time to discuss the aftermath of the process. Some of you were lucky enough to receive one or more invitations to interview, while others may have gotten the unfortunate “we regret to inform you” line. Now comes, what some say is the hardest part, waiting. May 14th is when both acceptances and rejections for Ontario medical schools are released, and the wait to hear back can lead to a lot of late nights and mental anxiety for many interviewees. How do you deal with the break, how can you occupy your time to stay busy and how do you deal with the uncertainty? These are some of the questions that individuals that are applying have and these can be very difficult to answer.
Dealing with the wait can be very difficult. Your mind can be going 100 miles an hour thinking of all the possibilities of what could result and what to do with your life if you do not get in. You also tend to review your interview in your mind through a critical lens, and within that context, everything you said in the interview comes under your personal scrutiny. “Why did I say that? Why didn’t I say this? I must have looked stupid compared to the rest of the applicants.” These are some thoughts that may come to mind during this break and can lead to some level of transient insomnia. A common piece of advice that I, and many other individuals will give you to do during the break is to keep yourself preoccupied and busy. Focus on school, fill your time with a hobby, and try to keep your mind away from thinking about the interview and what will happen on the day. This is great advice that should be followed, but there is more to it. The hobbies and school keep you busy during the day, but no matter how busy you keep yourself; you might end up having personal reflections during brief periods of freedom, especially at night when you are tired and inhibitions along with self-control are at their lowest. You can only keep yourself so occupied before you really do need to confront the issue at hand, and confronting it through reflection is actually vital, not just for this wait, but future periods of uncertainty as well.
This is just the beginning. Uncertainty is a huge part of the field; you will be in a state of uncertainty until the day you get your staff position and even then, other aspects of uncertainty linger. During your first two years there are many uncertainties. This includes if you will find the specialty that you truly click with and if you will build experiences that will benefit you come CaRMS. Once clerkship hits you will be unsure whether you are truly doing the best you can, how you compare to some of your colleagues and if you are leaving a good impression for your preceptors. At the end of the day, nothing is guaranteed, and you will remain in a state of limbo until you are established, so it is important to get used to being in this state no matter how uncomfortable it is.
Medicine is dominated by a very specific subset of individuals. Many of us like to be perfectionists, many of us like to have control over situations and our futures. Unfortunately, for a lot of aspects of life you have limited control. You can set yourself up for success and work hard to allow yourself the greatest chance for success, but at the end of the day, accept it or not, a lot of life in terms of both successes and failures are simply due to confounding situational factors out of your immediate control. You might be the perfect applicant for medical school, but this one year the person reading your application did not believe so and did not provide you an interview. Or you did get an interview, but that day you got sick, were not yourself, and did not provide the real “you” experience and that may have been the end of it. Unfortunately, no matter how many of my blog posts you read, no matter how much you prepare, there is this strange aspect to life which is chance that you need to embrace and accept. It is easy for me to say but stressing out over aspects of your life that are completely out of your hands is something you should aim to avoid as much as possible. I think it is completely normal to stress out about applying to medical school and being stressed for your interviews, but following the completion of your role, ideally you would step back, realize you have no more of an influence on the decision and accept whatever hand you are dealt. Maybe this cycle you end up lucky and this upcoming year you will be joining a medical school to train to be a future physician. Or maybe you unfortunately will be provided a rejection letter and asked to apply again. The last possibility is being placed on a waitlist and left in a weird limbo state for the summer unsure what your plans will be. No matter your stress level, no matter how much you wish you could control something, your level of control is eliminated following interview day. It is not up to you or your efforts anymore. The best thing you can do for yourself is to reflect on the journey, come up with some feedback for yourself in case you do end up interviewing again or have some points that you can learn from for your life in general, then move on with your life. Focus on aspects of your life that right now, in this moment, you can control. You have influence over how much you study for your upcoming exam and your performance on that. How you use your free time this upcoming summer, if you want to do research, take a class or volunteer for instance, this is in your hands. Take control of the aspects of your life that you can regulate and better your life through focusing your time and energy in those domains.
So, you might be thinking, “I appreciate you telling me how useless it is for me to stress out about getting an acceptance or rejection letter, but I’m still stressed”. Yes, I understand. Me telling you the reasons why it is a waste of your time to be stressed is not going to be the reason you are not stressed, but I hope to instill in you some logic as to why it is important to aim to minimize this. It is very difficult to completely eliminate, and I would be lying to you if I said I do not experience any form of stress related to aspects of my life out of my control. It is important though, that you are cognisant of the fact that it is a waste of your time and effort. Once you are aware of this, you are past the precontemplation stage and can start to come up with healthy strategies. Keeping yourself busy will always be a good strategy, but it does not tackle the real issue. In my opinion it is important to do a lot of self-reflection and internalization. Really think about how you feel waiting, how you will feel given the different possible outcomes, and what your plan is given the different outcomes. Set your mind up so that you can accept the different outcomes; this way you can rationalize what you will plan to do given an end-result so when the day comes you are prepared. By having a plan for various possibilities to respond to the various acute scenarios in times of stress, affords you the ability to enjoy or accept the outcome. You can tend to your emotional state without worrying about the future since it has been planned out.
Focus on tasks you care about or will help you going forward and do not fret about whether or not you will be getting in this year. Instead, approach it with a level head. If you do end up stressing out about it in isolated incidences, it’s ok. It is normal to stress out but aim for it to not become chronic or allow it to consume your mind. While there is some level of uncertainty to this wait, a greater level of uncertainty is to come and you do not want to waste the experience by stressing about the end-goal. Enjoy the process, there will always be another uncertainty you wish you could be sure about. Through the journey, you may develop a love for something you never had an interest in. You might end up in a place you never saw yourself in before but could never see yourself doing anything else. Allow life’s chance to have an influence on you and keep an open mind. This allows you to mould your path given your changing interests as you develop and as you learn more, keeping you engaged and in love with the work you do, thus providing you an additional level of satisfaction.
To all those waiting to hear back, stay healthy, keep living your life and I wish you the best of luck. Remember that getting into medical school does not dictate your worth regardless of outcome so be humble and also do not be taken down too hard if you are not provided the outcome you hoped for.